Sarah and I spoke again today. She called to be sure that she didn’t have to go to the hearing. In all the excitement, it is easy to second-guess yourself and think that you misheard information. Sarah hadn’t, however, and I assured her of the favorable decision and the fact that there is indeed no hearing. Now grounded again, Sarah went on to restate her gratitude. In particular, she wanted to recount a moment that we shared together.
Sarah had come in a few days before for our final meeting for the hearing. It was essential that Ana be there as she was going through a dry run of her direct. I saw Sarah in the waiting room, sitting straight-backed with her hands crossed on her lap and her head tilted to the right. I could tell she was uncomfortable, but she always maintains composure, so there she sat. Even though we couldn’t proceed with the meeting until Ana arrived (Ana had an emergency with another case and was on her way), I invited Sarah into the interview room. Just to chat.
So, we began talking. At a pause in conversation, I looked up to Sarah. I prefaced what I was about to say with a “I could never fully understand or appreciate what you have been through, I doubt many people can, so that is not why I’m telling you this.” I went on to tell Sarah about my experience in New Orleans.
I went to Tulane University and returned to school after Katrina. By March, everyone at school was or had been sick with pneumonia, bronchitis, pink eye, or some other infection. I had pneumonia, then bronchitis. I then had a chronic cough for the next couple of years. I never used to get sick, but all of a sudden I was catching every cold that went around. (Now, I know that college life doesn’t exactly boost your immune system, but this was different.) I was constantly tired and just felt generally unhealthy. I hadn’t realized that there was a specific cause, so I proceeded through life as if everything were normal. Finally, by senior year, I was fed up and focused on my health, determined to rid myself of the cough and fatigue. Even then, my stamina wasn’t where it should have been. I was only 21. What was going on?
Mold: one type of poisonous airborne spores. We were all exposed to it.
Now, if you take a legal interviewing class you will likely hear that this kind of “relating” can be dangerous. That relating may have the consequence of alienating the client. I understand how it would. If I experienced a traumatic event and an attorney empathized by saying, “I know how you feel, the same thing happened to me last year,” I probably wouldn’t be too comforted. Most of us are focused on self when we go in for help, and rightly so. Something in our lives is broken that we want fixed, so we need to tell our story. An attorney taking time to share his or her story may be seen as wasting time that the attorney should spend hearing more about the client, time that should be spent developing facts. This was all in the back of my mind as I contemplated telling Sarah my story, the reason why I related to her whole-heartedly. It scared me. I didn’t want to be responsible for alienating our client! In the end, my gut told me it would be okay and that it would comfort Sarah, so I proceeded.
Sarah was more than okay with me sharing my story. She was deeply comforted and moved by my experience and how it helped me understand and relate to her. She thanked me. She even called me the next day and thanked me again, explaining that I had made her feel as though she was just chatting with a girlfriend; something many of us take for granted, but that she hasn’t done in over ten years. We had made a connection. She had a chat with a girlfriend, and it filled her up. It filled me up, too.